Ship noise hurting orcas?

A program led by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority will examine how endangered southern resident killer whales respond to slower vessel speeds and reduced underwater noise in a key summer feeding area off southern British Columbia.

The port authority says 54 marine shipping companies have signed up to take part in the voluntary study between August and October in Haro Strait, the channel separating Vancouver Island from the San Juan Islands in Washington state.

The authority says in a news release that the ships represent a significant proportion of the large commercial vessels moving through Haro Strait.

During the research trial, vessel operators will be asked to travel over underwater listening stations at a speed of 11 knots, slower than the typical operating speeds, while the stations also monitor for the presence of whales.

About 900 deep sea vessels are expected to travel through Haro Strait during the study period.

The port authority says existing data on underwater vessel noise shows it can interfere with killer whale echolocation clicks, calls and whistles, affecting the ability to hunt, navigate and communicate.

Missing hiker found dead

A hiker has been found dead near Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island.

The 22-year-old went missing Wednesday night in Koksilah River Provincial Park.

Search and rescue crews say an aggressive cougar was stalking them while they looked for the man.

A cause of death has not been released, but CTV reports searchers were "extremely shaken" by the discovery.

– with files from CTV Vancouver Island

Massive waterspout spotted

A massive waterspout was spotted Thursday in the Strait of Georgia.

The spout, estimated by the Coast Guard to be 200 metres wide, was seen near Lasqueti Island, between Vancouver island and Texada Island.

Fisherman Shaun Radke said he'd never seen anything like it.

“The whole crew didn’t even really say much,” he told CTV. “It lasted for about 10 minutes, maybe a bit longer.”

Thunderstorms created the conditions for the spout, said Environment Canada. 

It does not appear that any vessels were caught in it. 

– with files from CTV Vancouver Island


Catches fire in seconds

A discarded cigarette butt can cause serious damage – in seconds.

Firefighters in Vancouver conducted a demonstration showing just how fast a flicked butt can spark an aggressive fire.

Vancouver Fire Rescue training officer Randy Schenderling lit a cigarette and laid it on a dried-out area of grass at the department's training centre.

He then tapped a flame from a lighter against the grass touching the cigarette and it quickly ignited.

It took only 40 seconds for a square metre of grass to be scorched, with flames spreading due to a light breeze.

The BC Wildfire Service says failing to extinguish a burning substance could land you a $575 fine, and dropping, releasing or mishandling a burning substance another $575.

– with files from CTV Vancouver

NDP stamp on Crown corps

British Columbia Premier John Horgan is moving quickly to put the New Democratic Party stamp on the province's Crown corporations and government organizations.

A news release from the premier's office says four appointments have been made aimed at delivering on government commitments to offer relief for families on hydro rates, auto insurance costs and housing affordability.

Former NDP finance minister, deputy premier and health minister Joy MacPhail has been appointed chair of the Insurance Corp. of B.C., while Cathy McLay, chief financial officer and executive vice-president of TransLink, will serve as a director of the auto insurance corporation.

Kenneth Peterson, former chief executive officer of Hydro subsidiary Powerex Corp., is the new chairman of BC Hydro, replacing Brad Bennett, who was a key player in former premier Christy Clark's re-election campaign.

Cassie Doyle, a deputy minister with both the federal and provincial governments, is the new chair of the BC Housing Management Commission, which develops, manages and administers subsidized housing.

Horgan says the appointees can all deliver effective leadership that would benefit the public.

"They will work hard to ensure the organizations they are responsible for are well managed, properly governed and well aligned with the government's mandate, and I know they are ready to get to work building a better B.C. for everyone," he says in the news release.

Tobacco battle drags on

A 16-year battle in British Columbia will drag on a little longer as the province fights to recover billions of dollars in health-care costs linked to tobacco-related diseases.

The Supreme Court of Canada has said it will hear the appeal of a B.C. court ruling that required the province to hand over patient information that tobacco giant Phillip Morris International says it needs to fight the B.C. lawsuit.

The B.C. government turned to the high court after the B.C. Court of Appeal unanimously agreed that Phillip Morris be given access to raw data used by the province in 2001 when it filed its lawsuit against 13 tobacco companies.

Jurists found trial fairness required handover of the databases, but lawyers for the province argued the data contains health-care information about individuals and its release could violate privacy laws.

The B.C. Appeal Court's decision differed from a 2016 ruling by the New Brunswick Court of Appeal that refused to release raw health-care data to tobacco companies.

B.C. was the first province to sue big tobacco for health-care recovery costs, following similar action in the United States that led to companies paying hundreds of billions of dollars to state governments. Every Canadian province has since followed suit.

Princeton 80% contained

The wildfire burning northeast of Princeton is now 80 per cent contained.

Fire information officer Brent Zbaraschuck says crews had a great day on the lines Wednesday, taking advantage of the cooler temperatures to bring further containment to the fire.

He says fire activity has been low within the perimeter of the fire.

Zbaraschuck says two areas of the fire are giving crews some difficulty because of fuel loads and terrain.

"The southwest corner is giving us a little bit of trouble, just because it has a thick, heavy fuel load," said Zbaraschuck. "And, the northeast portion is really hilly. It's hard to get to. You can't get equipment there so it's all hand tools."

A storm is expected to blow through the Interior today, bringing with it some rain, and a potential of thunderstorms.

Zbaraschuck says crews are ready in case lightning does start some new fires.

"We do have two initial attack teams here in Princeton, so if we do get any new starts, we have the ability to peel helicopters off the fire and engage any new starts.

"When you look at the rain we are expecting, it won;t put the fire out. All that does is brings the relative humidity up, which gives our guys the ability to make hay when they can."

Luring charge stayed

A child luring charge against a former B.C. school principal has been stayed.

Jason Obert, 38, was the target of a Creep Catchers sting in Abbotsford in October.

"Given the evidentiary challenges posed by the manner in which the evidence was obtained the Crown concluded that it was appropriate and not inconsistent with the public interest to resolve the matter by way of … recognizance," Crown prosecutor Dan McLaughlin told CTV.

Obert, who previously worked at Windebank Elementary School in Mission, has been released on a nine-month peace bond that includes conditions restricting contact with young people.

Creep Catchers claimed he had tried meeting a 14-year-old for sex.

– with files from CTV Vancouver

Tangled sea lion freed

A tangled sea lion has been freed from marine debris near Tofino.

Vancouver Aquarium says a rescue crew saved the adult female Steller sea lion earlier this month on Cleland Island.

A team tranquilized the animal and cut off a packing strap that was cutting into its neck. The sea lion was given antibiotics and tagged.

Researchers estimate about 400 animals a year are entangled in the Pacific Rim National Reserve.

The public is urged to report incidents to the aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-7325.

– with files from CTV Vancouver Island

Wildfires half human caused

As wildfires continue to burn across the province, the BC Wildfire Service says we don’t need any more human-caused fires.

There have been 310 wildfires from lightning this season and 290 that are man-caused, for a roughly 50-50 split.

“If you take the 10-year average over the course of the season, about 40 per cent of wildfires would be human caused,” said fire information officer Ryan Turcot.

The large wildfires of note that are currently burning are still under investigation, and Turcot said causes are still being determined.

“We do currently have a large number of wildfires that are quite concerning and have quite a large human impact just in terms of evacuations that are being caused,” he said.

“I really do want to emphasis to the public to please just use as much caution as you can,” he said. “Another human-caused fire is just going to divert critical resources away from the larger fires we are already dealing with.”

The largest wildfires currently are:

  • Hanceville Fire at 125,000 hectares
  • Elephant Hill at 52,622 hectares
  • Tautri Lake at 49,146 hectares

Wildfires top priority

The B.C. wildfire situation was the first thing Premier John Horgan discussed during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday in Victoria.

The state of emergency has been extended to ensure a co-ordinated response to the wildfires.

"When we face difficult times, people and communities come together to help each other,” said Horgan.

Horgan announced he is committed to providing ongoing direct financial support to evacuees.

The one-time $600-per-household funding will be renewed every 14 days until evacuees return home.

“Our government is stepping up our support of the people affected by the devastating wildfires in the B.C. Interior,” he said.

He also created a cabinet task force that will address the wildfire situation:

  • Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development
  • Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General
  • Katrine Conroy, Minister of Children and Family Development
  • Claire Trevena, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure
  • Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation
  • Jennifer Rice, Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness

Horgan said a strong, co-ordinated response to the wildfires is his governments highest priority. 

"To the evacuees, emergency responders, firefighters and volunteers: British Columbians stand with you every step of the way," he said.

$400K raised for sick mom

An entire community has rallied around a sick mother of two, raising over $400,000 for a new treatment trial in Seattle.

Leah Wiebe, a 29-year-old Terrace woman, was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of leukemia in spring 2016, and has been battling the disease for over a year.

After several treatments proved ineffective, doctors determined that Wiebe's only remaining option was to try a new treatment, CAR T-cell therapy, that's offered at the Fred Hutch Cancer Centre in Seattle.

Doctors gave Wiebe mere weeks to live, but the Fred Hutch Cancer Centre required a $650,000 deposit to cover anticipated expenses before she could be admitted.

Several Terrace businesses rallied around the cause, hosting fundraisers, and thousands of people donated money.

A YouCaring crowd funding page has raised over $312,000 while a separate GoFundMe page has raised over $54,000. All combined, total donations reached more than $400,000.

While an unbelievable amount, it still wasn't the needed $650,000, but on July 13, the government stepped in to help.

The Ministry of Health reviewed Wiebe's case and approved funding for her out-of-country medical expenses.

With this announcement, Wiebe will be heading to Seattle to take part in the trial, and will use some of the funds raised to pay for accommodations, travel and the cost of living while in Seattle.

Wiebe's future is still very much uncertain.

“If it turns out that Leah is healed/cured the remaining funds beyond Ryan and Leah's immediate family needs will be given to help other Leukemia patients who find themselves facing the same life threatening financial challenges Ryan and Leah faced,” wrote Leah's family on her YouCaring fundraising page Monday.

“We are very grateful for everything that all of you have done to help save Leah and help her family.”

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